My top ten 2017 cycling moments

To finish off the blog – in a year that has been dominated by cycling – I thought I would list my top ten memories of the achievement that was RAB. So in reverse order…..

10: Selfie rides

Some riders say that the ride only exists if it was tracked on a Garmin and logged on Strava. Well I am gadget and technology free when I ride so I don’t subscribe to this logic. Instead a number of my training rides have involved taking a selfie. There has even been known to be a competition in my triathlon club to recognise the most original photo. But for me, on a sportive near Milton Keynes back in the Spring I came across the village of Weald, so couldn’t resist taking that selfie!

9: Inspiring the next generation

As a coach at Thames Valley Triathletes (TVT) I lead a cycle group over the winter period and in 2017 that carried on well into the spring and early summer as I built up the ride mileage. Over the years I have watched a number of team members graduate from my group and go on to achieve triathlon sporting success. But sometimes it is more about being fit and healthy that matters. Earlier this year, one of my group – Winnie Pang-Crosbie – asked if we could put in a few extra loo stops? The reason being that she was pregnant. Well as a first time parent Winnie continued to ride with me until she was 32 weeks, which I think was a tremendous achievement. She was then back in the saddle this autumn for a ride out to a local Cross Country.

8: Power Hour

A lot of this year was focused on building cycling endurance, but once RAB was over I still had one more event to take part in. This was the Red Bull 25-hour relay race that took part around Windsor Great Park – an iconic local venue. The extra hour came about because the event took place over the weekend the clocks went back (end of daylight saving time) and to mark that moment at 2am the organisers initiated a Power Hour where all laps counted double. I had the opportunity to be on track in that period, and it was actually quite memorable thing to do. It makes it into my top ten at position 8.

7: RAB Training ride – organised via social media

In the month prior to the start of RAB, my personal training target was to ride 100 miles each and every weekend. This could either be the full 100 mile one day distance in a sportive, or two back-to-back rides of 50 miles+. These training rides were much more effective when cycling with others and one day in August I spotted a request on the RAB facebook group for a Sunday morning ride – at my 15 mph pace – somewhere in the Home Counties. Soon we had four people interested, and as my ride leading includes a good knowledge of the Chilterns hills, then I suggested a meet point at Beaconsfield station, allowing good train connections from London for those living in the city. Everyone arrived at the agreed time, and introductions were swiftly made before enjoying a very good training ride together over the next four hours. We even included a midpoint coffee stop at Velo Life to get to know each other. Not only was that ride exactly what we needed from a training perspective, it also gave me two people (Pete and Noel) that I then regularly bumped into during RAB.

Amazing what the power of social media can achieve when you have a group of like-minded people.

6: How to mark your 50th birthday

One of the best cycling weekends of the year took place over the May Bank Holiday where I managed 300 miles over three days back-to-back. The activities were organised by Kathryn Rossiter, who in work mode is Chief Exec of a local charity – Thrive. She and her husband Jamie are both talented triathletes and have both represented GB at age group championships. And Kathryn wanted to do something “challenging” to mark her 50th birthday so planned out a five day swim-bike-run combination. I joined her for the three days of cycling, of which the Sunday will live long in the memory.

We had eleven riders, nine hours of ride moving time, 1,200m of climbing, three refreshment breaks, and just one minute of light drizzle! At 220km – that’s nearly 140 miles in old money – it was my longest ever ride and gave me a massive confidence boost that I would be able to cope with the day seven 125 miler in Scotland on RAB. Thanks to all from TVT for making it such a great day and well done to Kathryn & Jamie for organising it. Oh – and they raised loads of money for the charity as well!

5: Arriving in Scotland

We are half way through my top ten countdown and now it is time to start remembering RAB itself. The initial entry is typified by a landmark photo when we arrived In Scotland. This was on day six – so just over half through the Lands End to John O’Groats trip.

I am flanked by Zoe and Laura, who were also riding RAB from my TVT triathlon club. At the start of the year they were fairly new to cycling and – for the coach in me – it was fantastic to see them progress as the spring training rides and summer sportives started to take over their lives. Suffice to say that when we started RAB itself I had no doubt that they would complete the goal they had set themselves at the start of the year. Well there were a few emotional ups and downs along the way, but I was entirely correct in my assertion that they would succeed. You will not find a more determined, resilient and resourceful pair of young ladies – well done both!

4: Night after RAB finish

Well if you thought that crossing the finish line in John O’Groats would be my number one moment of the year – then you were wrong! To be honest I was actually unimpressed with the most northerly point of the UK, with just a few boats in the harbour and a single café. The only attraction I could find was the iconic sign – which had a 20 minute queue to take a photo as everyone lined up for their turn at the money shot.

After showering and changing to clean dry (and warm) clothes, I hung around to watch the key people that I knew crossing the finish line and shared a hug with them all by way of congratulations. Despite the weather, despite the pre-dawn starts, despite the relentless need to stay focused and in the moment.. we had all made it to the finish!

Then just two and a half hours after arriving at JOG, I was leaving. This time on a coach bound for civilisation (aka Inverness). The road continued to follow the coastal contours, and from our elevated vantage point I could admire the scenery. Once 4G signal could be found then I could update social media with my finishers photo – 58 facebook likes then followed which is a PB for me – and as darkness fell we arrived into town. The following day I was catching an early morning train direct to London and so had booked the station hotel which was the perfect location. All I had to do was manage a 100 yard walk in the morning to the platform.

I checked in and was pleased to find that I had arrived in good time to order an evening meal. I was even given a discount voucher that included a second drink for free. Now normally on business trips I don’t really like eating on my own in restaurants, but this evening was completely different. I had a table to myself, ordered a local craft beer and nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc to wash down the main fish course, and started to reflect on what I had achieved. The past nine days had been so hectic that I had totally forgotten what it was like to take time over an evening meal and just enjoy the lovely food. Bliss!

3: Northumbria Sportive

Everyone had told me that the first day of RAB – in Cornwall – was actually the hardest ride of the event because of the ever present hills. So in my training I was keen to find a sportive event that could match that type of riding. And on the most glorious weekend of weather in June, I spent a hugely enjoyable day cycling in Northumbria National Park. Apart from the first and last 30 minutes of coastal riding, what came in between was six and half hours of relentless ups and downs.

The weekend had come about as my niece Helen and her husband Bob had moved away from London to Newcastle and this was an opportunity to visit. I did my research and found a cycling festival that included a 100 mile sportive on the Saturday. As my sister was also in town that weekend it meant my wife could join them whist I was out cycling. The locals that I chatted to that day said that in previous years the event had been cold, damp and misty whereas we had wall to wall sunshine to enjoy the views.

It was a glorious – and tough – day or riding that I was very pleased to finish. And that evening we hosted a family meal in the local pub which made it even more special.

2: Charity fund raising – for the Princes Trust

The year had started with RAB being ‘the big deal’ on my bucket list of sporting events that I wanted to conquer. It was a year of fives – I would be 55 and it was 5 years since I had done another multi-day cycling challenge which was a five day ride from mid-France back to the 2012 London Olympic Stadium as part of the Dallaglio-Flintoff Cycle Slam challenge.

So far, it was all about me. Until a chilly night in February when that all changed. I went along to a RAB evening hosted by the event organisers Threshold Sports at the London offices of the Princes Trust. As well as getting to meet Mac and his team I was completely blown away listening to the story of Aaron, who was one of the ambassadors who had been helped by the charity to turn his life around. It was truly inspiring and I immediately signed up to fund raise as part of my RAB journey.

Fast forward to the RAB event itself and I was not the only one who had a secondary motive for taking part. I would say that every single one of the 700 participants was raising money for various different good causes. And despite Threshold having a very limited reach in terms of PR promotion to a national audience – which is something that Laurence Dallaglio and Freddie Flintoff had definitely cracked five years earlier – through the sheer persistence of each and every rider we collectively raised over £1M in the 2017 edition of RAB. That is off the scale of impressive – and something that I feel very proud being a part of.

1: Realising RAB was a journey, not just a destination

And now the countdown has reached the crowning moment. As I said earlier, it was not the end of RAB that was the most memorable part of the year, but the start of day one. On a dry and crisp September morning, just after 7am, in Cornwall.

To be honest I hadn’t felt great in the couple of days prior to the start of RAB. Nerves affect people in different ways and mine was a headache and lack of energy – just not feeling a 100%. When I woke up on that Saturday morning without these symptoms, I was mightily relieved.

My ‘once in a lifetime’ cycling journey could now begin, and the near 11 months of training could start to pay off. I remember crossing the start line and saying to a well-wisher that this was just like I remember Christmas as a child – waking up to a big sack of presents. How lucky was I!

I remember clearly that first ten miles of coastal ride back to Penzance. Having not really been on a bike for the past 10 days it felt great to be riding again. We stopped to admire the view of St Michaels Mount, a collective group of cyclists who shared the same sense of excitement of the journey ahead.

Later in the week I would come to realise that it is coastal scenery that most inspires me. Yes the hills and lochs landscape in Scotland was spectacular, but it is the sea views that will live long in the memory. Some 900 miles later and we made it to the northerly coast of Scotland – with journeys end now on the horizon.

So whilst the start of RAB is actually my number #1 cycling moment of 217, what I have learnt is that to be successful in any challenge you have to embrace the process of getting there. We had a talk from Mark Cavendish on the Sunday night in Bath, and it is clear that elite sportsmen have rewired their brains in a completely different mind-set to the rest of us. Asked about what it is like to win a Tour de France stage then the answer is to be processing all the information in the final moments of a sprint – to be in a position to win.

Whilst the start of RAB was the memorable highlight, it was everything that had led up to that moment – the training, the fund raising, the team mates, the fitness levels achieved – that all combined to make it so special.

So thank you to everyone that was a part of my cycling adventure this year. It was ‘quite a thing’ we achieved together.

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Day 9 – 104 miles to John O’Groats

A great day of riding to complete my RAB adventure.

The day started with “It’s the final countdown” playing over the campsite tannoy.  It was a song that would stick in my head as the day progressed.

The riding started at first light,  in calm and peaceful conditions. Our route took us on quiet single track lanes that followed the contours of the rivers and lochs. 

We didn’t linger  at the first feed station as the midges were rife, and then the scenery changed as we got to the northern Scottish coastline. We turned to the east with the ride becoming more challenging as we went up punchy climbs and steep descents that hugged the cliff line. As it was the last day there was no excuse but to put some effort in. 

After a final pit stop there was just 30 miles left of our RAB adventure. Our course turned north into the pesky headwind that had been omnipresent throughout the nine days. But it was just a matter of keeping the pedals moving and at a quarter to four we took the final left hand turn and rolled down into the finish area at John O’Groats to be greeted by the fanfare from the Threshold event team and well wishers. 

I made sure to stay around the finish area to see the key people that I had ridden with complete their day.  It was great to see the different type of celebration! Big shout out to Zoe and Laura from TVT,  to Maz and Kate who were from the Threshold team but we’re competing this year,  and to Alan who was the carbon copy of myself in undertaking this adventure. Thank you all. 

And then it was time to catch the coach back to civilisation (aka Inverness). From an elevated view we could enjoy more coastal views as the A9 wound it’s way down south. Scotland had given us some varied scenery but I now know that it is the coastal views that I find most appealing.  And once I found some 3G signal I could post my finishers photo,  and let the sense of achievement start as the notifications and likes came in. Thank you and good night. 

Day 7 – 126 long miles in western Scotland

Continuing the theme of letters of the day, today’s chosen member of the alphabet is “S”.

This was the Signature RAB day, leaving Glasgow at first light and covering 126 miles that included some stunning climbs (and descents) of Campsie Fells, the Trossachs and Glencoe.

It was a very long day – taking over 12 hours of elapsed time for me to arrive at base camp in Fort William.
The next double “S” is Scenery in Scotland. There is plenty of it – big hills, glacial valleys, lochs and the bleak wilderness of Rannock Moor. The weather was kind – conditions were dry and bright with a more manageable NW wind. The only exception were the higher routes where there was no protection from the headwind. Just keep grinding those pedals.

So the finish on Sunday is now something that is starting to feel real. Another tough and hilly course to navigate first tomorrow into the Highlands. 

And I have to camp, meaning no hotel Wi-Fi to post blog updates, so the next you will hear from me will be on Monday.

Day 6 – 100 miles in the Scottish borders

The letter of the day is “W” – which stands for Wind, today being a chilly north westerly. As LEJOG is a south-north navigation of the UK that makes it challenging headwind.

The day started by leaving our muddy base camp that would have made Glastonbury proud. The first session was a relaxed ride with Zoe and Laura from TVT, stopping at the border sign as we crossed into Scotland.

Then the route turned directly north on a side road alongside the M74. Whilst the gradient was never steep we did reach over 1,000 feet of elevation through the borders countryside. And the wind made it feel like a  constant stealth ride up hill.

So it was tough – but we got through by riding in small groups, each taking it in turns on the front. Conditions in which cycling friendships are made. High fives all round at the finish.

Tomorrow is more of the same – and it is the longest leg of the event. To quote Threshold Sports who are the RAB event organisers, it is going to be a “More Is In You” day.

Day 5 – 108 miles in the Lake District 

In the aftermath of storm Aileen that moved through the North West overnight,  the fifth day of  RAB was mixed weather with periods of heavy rain and the occasional brighter spell. 

The day started with a route through the conurbation of Wigan, Charley and Preston during morning rush hour that certainly won’t make the highlights reel. But once we headed off towards the local Hills then the mood lifted as we found nicer roads. But the evidence of all the rain was evident from the rivers that we crossed.

The main challenge of the day was the ride from Kendal up Shap Fell – an 8 mile climb that took nearly an hour to reach the summit at 1400 feet.  And as has happened  before as soon as we reached the summit the heavens opened with hail and a rainbow. 

The last hour was certainly tough – an accumulation of 5 days of back to back 100 mile sportives.  But we are over half way to John OGroats now and the legs are holding up well. 

And the best news of the day was that I made my fund raising target for the Princes Trust., and with more corporate activities still in play that should mean that I add to that tally.  Makes it all worthwhile. 

Day 4 – 107 miles to Haydock

Tuesday dawned sunny with an autumnal chill in the air as we rolled out of Ludlow onto the Shropshire lanes. 

The route was a flatter terrain, meaning more chance to stretch the legs and pick up the pace.  This morning was what I had imagined RAB would be like.  Quiet roads,  lovely country scenery and time to form groups and chat your way through the ride. A cyclists heaven. 

Our route took through the Cheshire plains before the last 15 miles skirting around the Greater Manchester suburbs. Having made good time I arrived at Haydock Park racecourse without any hold up from traffic,  meaning the post ride routine of shower,  massage and a mug of tea and cake.

The cake part was courtesy of the Princes Trust where an ambassador who had used a grant to start her own baking business had provided a cupcake for every rider.  GBBO at base camp! 

And don’t forget that this ride is about helping raise funds for charity.  As an event it hopes to exceed a million pounds across the causes,  and whilst my contribution will be only a fraction – it all helps.  Go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RAB2017.

Day 3 – 101 miles to Ludlow

A day of contrasts which started with an Atlantic storm dumping torrential rain on all the RAB cyclists as we left Bath. There was water flowing down the streets and not much visibility. 

But once we got to the Severn Bridge the rain had abated and the first pit stop in the shadows of Chepstow Castle was a chance to dry off. The next section took us through the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley with a nice mix of climbs and descents. 

The roads flattened out for the last part of the day, but the NW wind was always in our faces as we pedalled north into Shropshire.

By the end of the afternoon the sun was beating the weather competition with the rain showers and we arrived at Ludlow racecourse in much more pleasant conditions than we had left in the morning.